Fallujah, a Year Later

It was a year ago this week that the Marines and Army went into Fallujah to kill off the insurgency there. Since the fighting ended, Fallujah has mostly disappeared from the news. There was some fitful coverage of the resettlement and rebuilding effort after the battle. Every once in a while, the city’s name shows up in a casualty report when an insurgent bomb goes off there.

One attention-getting episode of the Fallujah offensive involved journalist/blogger Kevin Sites. Shooting video for NBC, he got footage of a Marine killing an apparently helpless and perhaps already mortally wounded insurgent (Navy investigators later found the Marine acted in self-defense and within the rules of war when he shot the Iraqi). Many on the right denounced Sites as a traitor. He soon left Iraq.

Where is Sites today? Well, he’s got a fancy new blog site on Yahoo! called Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone. A tad on the Geraldo side, title-wise, maybe, but I always found Sites to be painstakingly honest in his attempt to balance his own personal reactions to what he sees against his duty to report what’s happening and letting his subjects — especially the U.S. troops he spends time with — say their piece.

This week, he’s back in Fallujah, taking stock of the city a year after the battle. Upon entering the city, the Marine unit he’s with is warned of a possible bomb nearby:

“The threat of a roadside bomb seems to reinforce the memories I have of the city, and so do the many shattered facades of buildings neither demolished nor rebuilt an entire year later.

“Yet while many signs of the battle’s ferocity remain, I also notice something else: the streets are filled with people.

“Shops are open, some operating out of buildings with just three walls or partial roofs. Cars and trucks travel the road alongside children coming from school. There is here a sense of normalcy as well.

“The Marines cannot provide precise figures on how many people returned to their homes in Fallujah after last year’s battle, but some estimates have it as high as two-thirds of the population.”

It’s a glimpse, anyway, of what the rebuilding of Iraq looks like.

Yesterday’s News

Remember during November’s big fight in Fallujah when NBC videojournalist/independent blogger Kevin Sites filmed a Marine shooting a wounded and apparently unarmed Iraqi insurgent? Some denounced the shooting as little more than murder, many more denounced Sites as little more than a traitor, and the military announced … it would investigate. Big controversy.

That was all of three and a half months ago, and the incident has been mostly forgotten. The Marine is reportedly at Camp Pendleton. Kevin Sites left Iraq and covered the tsunami aftermath in Southeast Asia (and won an award earlier this week for his blog). And the military either has or has not come to a conclusion about whether the shooting was justified.

Two days ago, CBS News reported that Navy investigators “believe the situation is ambiguous enough that no prosecutor could get a conviction.” Thus, CBS said, he wouldn’t be charged in the shooting. Thursday, the Marines rushed to deny the report and issued statements that the investigation hasn’t been completed and no decision on charges has been made one way or the other. But the denials aren’t directly contradicting the CBS report if you read them carefully: They emphasize that the inquiry isn’t finished, which the CBS story also acknowledges. And the CBS story adds that regardless of the decision on a homicide or war-crimes prosecution, the Marine could still face some sort of internal sanctions from the Corps.